The closest Mazda ever got to a Subaru STI or Mitsubishi Evo competitor was the Mazdaspeed 6, a turbo all-wheel-drive sedan that was much mellower than its rivals. But an old Mazda concept shows it nearly joined the fray of wild, winged, World Rally Championship ready-looking sports sedans with the never-produced 626 MPS.
The Mazda 626 MPS, standing for Mazda Performance Series, debuted in 2000 at the Geneva Motor Show as "a test-bed for sports tuning parts and to assess its production feasibility." Developed by Mazdaspeed (RIP), the 626 MPS was closer to a Legacy GT or Galant VR-4 than it was an STI or Evo, as it was based on a midsize sedan rather than a compact. In fact, it even used a surprisingly similar engine to that of the Galant and Legnum VR-4: a 2.5-liter, twin-turbo V6.
Derived from the variable-intake 2.5-liter in the regular 626, this engine was unique to the MPS concept. It had a big front-mounted intercooler, enlarged radiator and oil cooler, and a lightweight flywheel with an uprated clutch. It needed those because of its output of 276 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque, which it sent through a five-speed manual to full-time all-wheel drive.
It would've been handy in corners too, with 18-inch aluminum wheels, highly adjustable suspension, and enhanced aero generated by its special front lip, fender flares, side skirts, and ginormous rear wing. Also, the brakes were plenty big, with six-piston front calipers and four-piston rears.
As noted above, Mazda said it was considering producing the 626 MPS. However, the 626 exited production in 2002 in the U.S. with the MPS unrealized, whereupon it was replaced by the Mazda 6. The Mazdaspeed 6 was still pretty similar, with a turbo 2.3-liter four-cylinder making comparable power and all-wheel drive, only with a six-speed manual instead of the concept's five-speed.
That said, the 'Speed 6 is no longer remembered in the way its closest competitors were, and it's tough to say why. Is it because it wasn't a WRC legend, or because it went without the sort of wing that was synonymous with accessible performance of the day? In either case, it's hard not to imagine the Mazdaspeed 6 making a more lasting impact if it had been just a little bit wilder.
Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: email@example.com